Blu ray Review #1: King Kong Escapes (1967)

I thought I drop a review on some of the blu-ray DVDs I’ve picked up lately, and I figured I’d start things up with this fun little number. King Kong Escapes was not, as you might expect, based on the original King Kong (1933) or the popular King Kong vs. Godzilla, which I think still ranks, adjusted for inflation, as the most profitable Godzilla movie in the franchise.

KKEscapesNo, this movie was based on the cartoon series The King Kong Show, which hit American small screens between 1966-1969. It, like the movie, was produced by Rankin/Bass, which is perhaps better remembered for the many stop-motion animated holiday TV specials they produced, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed ReindeerThe Year Without a Santa Claus, and the movie Mad Monster Party.  This was a co-production between the company and Toho Studios, much like The Green Slime and The Last Dinosaur. 

Most people look at King Kong Escapes as probably the worst Kong movie every made. And mainly they’re looking at that atrocious gorilla suit. Much like the aforementioned KK vs. G, there wasn’t a lot of money spent on the primate star of the movie. Even Bob Burns’ legendary and somewhat ratty suit would’ve looked better on screen then the plasticine-faced monstrosity we were shown. You can see seams a-plenty, flaccid lower arm extensions that often make it look like Kong has two elbow joints, and a flap on the back of the head that has a tendency to flutter when the hero gets tossed around too much.

But if you discount that suit, this is actually not a bad movie. The special effects are really top notch for a G-rated movie, the sort directed at kids – it’s head-over-heels better then most of Daiei’s Gamera output of the same era. The miniatures, for the most part, are as good in any of the good Godzilla movies, and even the green screen work is exemplary.

This film was the first appearance of the monster that would later become known as Gorosaurus. He’s pretty much just a dinosaur, though with a kangaroo-like predilection for jumping and kicking opponents. The suit is one of the best dinosaur presentations of the pre-CGI era, and looks really good.

The acting is hammy and on a kids’ level. Dr. Who, played by Eisei Anamoto, is dubbed by the inimitable Paul Frees, star of many dubbed kaiju flicks over the century. Rhodes Reason stars as UN Commander Carl Nelson,  and does a good job as the square-chinned male lead. He appeared in an episode of Star Trek and in a barn full of action oaters. He was the younger, nearly identical brother of Rex Reason, perhaps best remembered for This Island Earth.  Linda Miller was a model who worked in Japan, and this was one of only two movies she appeared in (the other was The Green Slime). She’s pretty, but really dull as a performer. Akira Takarada portrays the other male lead, who appeared in loads of kaiju flicks for Toho. The sultry Madame X was Mie Hama, who appeared in numerous Japanese films and hit international shores in the James Bond vehicle You Only Live Twice and the dubbed Woody Allen film What’s Up, Tiger Lily?

I know the film kept me rapt when I saw it on the CBS Late Night Movie back in the seventies.  It’s just a fun little monster flick. The highlight of the movie was the Robot Kong that Who created from Nelson’s plans. When I first saw the movie, I was amazed at how cool the robot looked, and the opening sequence where Robot Kong attempts to uncover the Element X deposit was spellbinding on a 9-inch black-and-white set. Yeah, I was easy to please back then. Oh, and while every source seems to note this, the robot was never called MechaniKong, no matter how cool that name might sound.

The Blu ray DVD of King Kong Escapes was put out by Universal Studios in 2014. The print they use of the film is pretty good – at least I didn’t notice a lot of film scratches, and I didn’t see any pixelation or any problems with the playback. The disc is barebones, having only a commercial for Ultraviolet (which, naturally, doesn’t cover THIS movie), and nothing else. No trailers, no behind-the-scenes…not even a menu. But with Amazon Prime, it only case me $8.99, so it wasn’t a big loss or expenditure either way.

I love monster movies, and this one is no exception. Many people will grind it down for the Kong outfit, but any viewing that chooses to go beyond that will see a fun, kinda goofy movie, with some otherwise pretty good production values. Definitely something every kaiju fan should see.

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Book review: The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2

Action_Heroes_Archives,_Volume_2While a good portion of my hardcover reprint collection consists of Marvel Masterworks volumes, there are a few DC Comics Archives that I also take the time to grab when they’re cheap on Amazon: The Doom Patrol, All-Star Comics, some o the non-Superman and Batman golden age stuff, and the Action Heroes.

Now many folks who aren’t into comics are probably saying “Action Heroes”? Who the hell are they? Well, to put it simply, they are a bunch of characters that were published by Charlton Comics in the late sixties. The three big names were the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and the Question. All three of those were created, co-created, or revamped by Steve Ditko, the comic legend behind Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and most of the really good aspects of the first Marvel Age of Comics. After leaving Marvel, he sauntered over to Charlton, where Dick Giordano was trying something new with their heroes, which hadn’t really caught on with the public. (It was hard to really make any headway into super-hero comics when DC and Marvel monopolized the field for, well, nearly ever.)

Captain Atom was an entirely new, atomic-age super-hero, with a healthy dose of the jingoism-of-the-day. Blue Beetle was the latest in a long line of characters to assume that name, beginning back in late 1939. Charlton Comics had just ceased publishing their last versions of both characters a few years earlier.

The Question was a brand new creation by Steve Ditko, and was one of his first creations to really espouse his Randian view of the world. He was the immediate predecessor of Mr. A and numerous other stories that Ditko has created since taking the self-publication route for his more, shall we say “political”, works.

Now if you’re wondering why DC Comics put out an archive (well, two) of these characters, they purchased most of the Charlton heroes (and villains) back in the early eighties and incorporated them into their own comic book multiverse in the classic Crisis on Infinite Earths limited series.

A side note: The Action Heroes almost ended up being deconstructed in their first major story for DC, as Alan Moore had wanted to use them for his epic tale Watchmen. DC didn’t like that idea, but they were used as inspirations (The Question = Rorschach, Captain Atom = Dr. Manhattan, Blue Beetle = Nite Owl, Nightshade = Silk Spectre, etc.).

The Action Heroes Archives Volume 2 reprints every Ditko-scripted or drawn adventure of the Question and Blue Beetle, and the revived run of Captain Atom. The issues in this volume are:

  • Captain Atom #83-89 (featuring Nightshade as his partner in many)
  • Blue Beetle #1-5, along with a black-and-white story intended for #6 (the Question was the back-up feature)
  • Mysterious Suspense #1 (featuring the Question)
  • Charlton Bullseye #1, 2, 5
  • And a Question story by Alex Toth.

Fan writer David Kaler contributed a couple of scripts, but nearly everything else in this book is Steve Ditko (he wrote under the alias of “D.C. Glanzman” among others). And it’s very good Steve Ditko was well. He doesn’t really have the opportunity to stretch his artistic vision as he did in Doctor Strange but he manages to work in a lot of space adventures for Captain Atom that are very reminiscent of this long run of work on Charlton and Marvel science fiction and monster comics in the fifties. His Blue Beetle is effervescent and nearly as action-filled as his Spider-man and later Creeper stories.

And the Question is … well, the Question is perhaps the most realistic hero Steve Ditko created for mainstream comics. And when I say “realistic”, I mean he was the most real as a part of Steve Ditko himself. The Question’s stories will seem, to the average comic reader today, very verbose. I would say that almost half of a page of a Question story was filled with captions or word balloons. And he did his best to make his Objectivist points, though with not nearly the uncompromising edge of the later Mr. A, who believed in good and evil and nothing in between the two. If this hadn’t been Charlton, with considerably lax publisher interference in the editorial department, I doubt that Mysterious Suspense would’ve ever been published. It is very good that it was, of course, since it is often called one of the highlights of Charlton’s entire publishing history, and one of the best single issues of ANY comic book series.

I read a good number of these stories when I was a little todger, when Woolworth was selling the Charlton books under the “Modern Comics” imprint. Both volumes of the Action Heroes Archives make it so nice to read these again, as the reproduction values are parsecs away from the originals. That was pretty much standard for Charlton Comics thought, and part of the nigh-perverse reason that many folks remember the company and its comics with such fondness today. They may have been a bit clunky (hell, I actually got a Charlton comic book a few years ago that had five sides), but the tales within were good examples of solid storytelling. The fact that this volume is nearly all Ditko is merely an added benefit.

One of the Charlton Bullseye reprints features an interesting story that finished off the Captain Atom series, and has artwork by Ditko but inked by a young John Byrne, before he came to fame at Marvel. Alex Toth’s Question story is exemplary.

I can’t really find any reason NOT to recommend this book. It’s really one of those books that should be required reading for any comic book artist, given the mastery of storytelling that Steve Ditko exudes. I think even the casual reader will enjoy it, especially if they’re old enough to remember any of these characters, or just the days when comics were printed on newsprint and sold in grocery stores. You can usually score it fairly cheap on Amazon or eBay (in the $20-40 range), which is a small price for revisiting a chunk of a happy childhood.

So on the new scale:

review-charltonheroesv2

Responding to reviews, and other handy points for authors in general…

Since some asshat authors who have been attacking some friends of mine for leaving less than glowing 5-star book reviews on their work, here’s this helpful list on How to Deal with Bad Reviews on Your Book:

1. Take a deep breath.

2. Read the review.

3. Exhale.

4. If there is valid criticism, take heed of it. Think about it and perhaps use it to better your style of writing.

5. If the review is a rant by an apparent lunatic (or loonie, for short), spam for another book, or an attack by a detractor, identify it as such and confine said review to where it belongs: Oblivion. Forget it exists. Insanity breeds insanity, and being a writer, you don’t need more madness than what you’ve already got between your ears.

6. If point #4 is in effect: In certain instances, when a review is touching or right on the mark with you as a writer and a human being, feel free to respond to the review with a simple “thank you” or a “You have made a valid point and I will strive to better my work. Thank you for the insight.”

7. If point #5 is in effect: Do not respond to the review. DO NOT RESPOND TO THE REVIEW. Yes, that was said twice, because it is very important. Trying to reason with the lunatic fringe is like trying to count the number of Jimmy Carl Blacks who can dance on the head of a pin; it’s pointless, impossible and will only feed the madness and ire of the person ranting.

8. As a corollary to Point #7, do not harness your incredible social media powers and get all your friends to respond to said review in your stead. This looks just as bad, is very, very obvious (since no one bothers reading a review after it’s posted unless they are:

1) the author,
2) insane, or
3) are”helping” an author out by trying to make a reviewer look like an asshat). Remember they will look the asshats, NOT the author or even the reviewer.

9. Go have a beer, take a toke, read a book, listen to Freak Out or Megalomania, take a walk, run a marathon, have a pizza or whatever your preferred form of relaxation happens to be at that particular moment in time.

10. When you’re relaxed, start writing again.
11. Repeat #9 and #10 as necessary.

The single most important thing to remember as an author:
Do NOT take yourself too seriously.

Things that an Author should also ALWAYS remember:

You are NOT Raptor Jesus’s gift to the written word.

You are not perfect. Just because your mother or your wife or your dog likes your writing, does not mean it is the best thing every written. Many of you should be digging ditches instead of putting words to paper, given your grasp of the English Language.

Do NOT whine and kvetch over the fact you couldn’t afford to get a proper editor for your work, or that what you are doing is just a hobby-thing – If you publish your work, readers will assume you are a professional writer and have done all those neat little things professional writers do – like editing and proofreading and formatting and that sort of stuff you probably think is useless because you can’t afford it or your ego is so inflated that you don’t think you need it. Guess what? You do.

Do NOT get into online arguments with reviewers. YOU CANNOT WIN THAT WAR! And it is only a war if YOU decide to make it one.

Below is my new scale for rating books on my blog: NewRatings
I expect some, shall we saw, interesting responses to this…

Book review: The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told

 

ImageI figured I’d start off a new blog with a review of an old friend. The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told was one of umpteen hundred of books I sold way back when to pay the bills. When I suddenly saw a copy up on Amazon for under three bucks, I had to snag it. It arrived yesterday and I read it straight through at one sitting.

If a lot of companies (cough-cough-D-fucking-C-cough) would remember how good comic book stories used to be, it might actually sell more books. Almost every tale in this book is an example of a good story. A good number of them are also simply classic tales that made is so the garbage that is today’s comics could even exist. Unfortunately, a good number of creators and the new breed of “fan” won’t even look at anything that was written before 1990, or, perish the thought has a word balloon on the cover.

The book opens with three old Superman tales. The first has Luthor, Prankster and Toyman teaming up to fail against the Man of Steel. It’s fun but quaint, with every male character looking like burly or outright doughy guys. Superman and the Dynamic Duo go back in time to solve the mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask, and Robin meets Superboy.

The next two-part story is a team-up that never happens, in which Aquaman and Green Arrow swap balliwicks to tackle two escaped convicts with grudges.

After that, you’ve got two of the stories that started it all: “Flash of Two Worlds”, which introduced the concept of Earth-Two, parallel Earths, and brought all the characters of the Golden Age back into play; and “Crisis on Earth-One/Crisis on Earth-Two”, which started the annual Justice League/Justice Society team-ups. Both are the Silver Age at its finest, and if you are a comic book fan and haven’t read them, please close your browser and go stick your head in a bucket of water.

Adam Strange and Hawkman, the Flash and the Atom, the original Teen Titans (sans Wonder Girl), and Green Lantern/Green Arrow follow. This is a Silver Age artwork treasure trove! Carmine Infantino and Murphy Anderson, Alex Toth, Bruno Premiani, and Neal Adams and Frank Giacoia.  The GL/GA tale is the first of their pioneering storyline in which the two heroes drove across the country, searching for the American Dream about a decade before Hunter S. Thompson did.

The final three tales are a bit more modern: Dick Dillin provides the pencils for the tale of Tomar-Re’s first rather disastrous mission as a Green Lantern, Jim Aparo details a meeting between Batman and the Creeper, and Alan Moore and Rick Veitch have Superman meeting Swamp Thing. Moore, for all his yen of deconstructionism, could write a helluva comic story, and this is one of his best using someone else’s characters.

For the variety of artwork, story-telling, and simple style, The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told is very hard to beat. It’s also hard to beat in terms of pivotal stories and comics that were both fun and enjoyable. It can usually be found in hardcover or paperback on Amazon fairly cheaply these days, so if you don’t already own it, I would recommend you get yourself a copy.